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On the Penobscot

By Tom Richardson; Photos by Tom Richardson & Camden Spear
Launching at the Costigan ramp in Milford.

The ENE TV team recently returned from two days in the Old Town area of Maine, where we filmed, among other things, an overnight paddling trip on the Penobscot River. Our guides were David Thanhauser and Cloe Chunn, founders of the nascent Penobscot River Paddling Trail, which will extend from Medway, at the junction of the East and West branches of the river, all the way to Penobscot Bay, a distance of some 100 miles.

Paddling Trail founders David Thanhauser and Cloe Chunn paddle downriver on the Penobscot.

The trail currently comprises 11 free campsites located approximately every 10 miles along the river. Three more sites are planned, and the hope is to link the trail with the series of coastal campsites along the Maine Island Trail, which extends from Kittery to Canada.

Colorful maples line the flooded river banks.

Cameraman Camden Spear and I met David and Cloe at the Costigan boat launch in Milford, where we splashed our two canoes and a kayak and headed downstream. It should be noted that overnight parking is not allowed at this ramp, but David and Cloe had arranged for a special permit through the Penobscot County Sherriff’s Department. It would prove a fateful arrangement.

Fly fishing for bass at dawn.

With the river running high and fast due to recent rains, we made excellent time, and quickly covered the five miles to the Ketawamkihtek Campsite just inside the entrance to the Stillwater River, which is technically a branch of the Penobscot. A large yellow sign and uprooted tree near the Twin Islands indicated the landing spot.

Yellow signs mark the Paddling Trail campsites.

The site itself is enormous, and can easily accommodate four or five tents. A long picnic table serves as the centerpiece, and a simple open-air latrine is available nearby (but not too nearby). Currently, no open fires are allowed at the PRPT sites, although propane stoves can be used for cooking.

The author (in kayak) and David and Cloe continue downriver toward Old Town.

Speaking of cooking, that evening Cloe prepared a delicious meal of Brunswick stew, pickled scapes, and homemade apple bread while I fished the river. The lower Penobscot is well known for its multitude of smallmouth bass, although I was unable to land a single one, despite numerous strikes. Naturally, I blame it on the unusually high water level and turbid conditions.


Studying the Penobscot River Paddling Trail map.

The next morning we woke early and downed a hearty breakfast before packing up and heading back to the main branch of the Penobscot and continuing downstream to our takeout spot in Old Town, where we had left David and Cloe’s car. Cloe drove Camden and I back to the Costigan ramp to retrieve our vehicles—only to discover that our catalytic converters had been stolen overnight! As we would learn from the sheriff’s deputy who took our report, catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed in Maine lately due to a demand for the metals they contain. Suffice it to say that river users need to think twice before leaving their vehicles unattended—at least for time being.

Despite the unfortunate ending, our adventures on the Penobscot were a lot of fun, thanks mainly to the generosity and fine company of David and Cloe—and their generous gift to the water-lovers of Maine and beyond!

Click here for an interactive map of the Penobscot River Paddling Trail.


David and Cloe have paddled thousands of miles in their much-loved canoe.
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